Ballywillan Church (Ballywillin)
is situated about one mile outside Portrush on the
Ballywillan Road. The old graveyard
at Ballywillin is unusually large when compared to
other churches of a similar period. Ronan Lundy visited
the graveyard with William Roulston of
the Ulster Historical Foundation and historians Dr
Bob Curran & Hugh McGrattan.
Ruins of the old
Ruins of the old
church here date back to the 12th Century.
It has no roof now but the walls are intact.
William Roulston says that this is an important
site from an archaeological point of view.
It’s not known who built this church,
nor is there a definite date of its building
but this place would certainly have been the
main Parish church for Ballywillan.
In the early 17th Century came the reformation
and, as was the case with so many others,
this church would have been taken over by
the Church of Ireland.
Surviving records show
that throughout the 17th Century the church
here had fallen into a dilapidated
state and it was really only towards the end of
the century that it was repaired to be an
As such it would have continued in use
up until the 1840s, when a new church was
built in nearby
Prior to that time, the churchgoers who came
here would have been Presbyterian rather than C.o.I.
Portrush was only a village at the time and thus
the congregation here would have been made up of
locals from within a five mile radius or thereabouts.
The congregation was fairly small too, probably less
than 100 people, even though the building itself
was quite substantial. Maintaining a large building
was a drain on their resources and so they actually
walled off part of the church interior to make the
place smaller and more suitable for their purposes.
Dr Bob Curran tells us that the oldest headstone
in the graveyard is a particularly interesting one.
It marks the grave of a Royal
Princess, the illegitimate daughter of James 2nd,
King of England to be exact!
King James was on his way in 1689 to the siege of
Derry. He stopped off en-route for 3 days in Ballymoney.
Whilst there he “took a shine”, as they
say here, to a local farmer’s daughter. This
farmer thought he might gain some favour from the
King by offering his daughter for an evening’s
companionship. This he did. King James took him
up on the offer but moved on after his short stay,
never to return.
It later transpired that
the farmer’s daughter was pregnant. King James,
who actually had seven illegitimate children during
his life, denied having any relationship with the
daughter of the farmer.
The child she bore was called
Dorothea and was brought up into a Protestant Family.
She subsequently married a wealthy Coleraine Merchant
called Ross and died early in life, only in her
twenties. Local legend has it that she actually died
daughter of King James 2nd, is now
buried right here in Ballywillan. Her headstone
is said to have been erected
by Queen Anne, her half sister. On the headstone
is the Stuart Coat of Arms and a Fleur de
It’s worth considering that had Dorothea
Ross lived to survive William 3rd and Queen
Anne, She would have had claim to the Throne
Had she lived she would have also
changed the entire history of both Ireland
and England. William was not popular and
there were those with a definite interest in
Any successor had to be a Protestant
and Dorothea would have made an ideal candidate.
She was well thought of, well married and
would very probably have been a popular choice
The Coat of arms and
the Fleur de Lys is just visible in this
photo of Dorothea's headstone
One of Dorothea’s contemporaries (who isn’t
buried here at Ballywillan) was the most famous “Giantess” in
Ireland, Mary Murphy, who came from “the
Island of Portrush”. She was around 7 feet
tall and had the honour of entertaining King William
3rd and Queen Mary
2nd in London. She danced an Irish jig and sang an
Irish song, for which she was paid the fee of one
Although almost 7ft tall, she was very attractive
and had no shortage of local suitors. She turned
them all down however and married a French sea captain
who happened to be passing through the port of Portrush.
After marrying her he gave up his life at sea and
took up the job of exhibiting Mary as an attraction
at side shows around the countryside. Mary’s
last recorded appearance was at a side show attraction
not far outside the city of Paris. By that time she
had been abandoned by her husband and was destitute.
Jarno McAfee - Mar
such a lovely church